On Sunday morning, the NFL Players Association announced that its members voted to ratify the proposed collective bargaining agreement. While the decision came down to only 60 votes, the league will therefore move forward under a new labor deal — one that has some major ramifications on pro football not just in terms of the increased playoff field and 17-game regular season that will be implemented in the upcoming years.
Voting in favor of the new CBA also means that the league will no longer operate under the so-called “Final League Year” rules, which is good news for the New England Patriots and their quest to re-sign star quarterback Tom Brady. Why is that the case? Because of one part of this set of rules that came to be known as the “30 percent rule.” Article 13, Section 7, Point A of the previous CBA that was signed in 2011 defined that rule as follows:
No NFL Player Contract extending into a season beyond the Final League Year may provide for an annual increase in Salary, excluding any amount attributable to a signing bonus [...], of more than 30% of the Salary provided for in the Final League Year, per year, either in the season after the Final League Year or in any subsequent season covered by the Player Contract.
What did this mean? Let’s say a player signs a contract this offseason that pays him a salary of $10 million in 2020. Without a new CBA, that deal would have had to work under the “30 percent rule.” Consequently, the salaries in the subsequent years of the deal would not have been able to rise more than 30 percent on an annual basis. This hypothetical player would therefore have received a maximum salary of $13 million in 2021, $16 million in 2022, and so on.
Now, however, the whole picture changes.
With a new CBA in place, teams are again permitted to structure contracts like they do during regular (off)seasons and salaries can rise without any stipulations in place to limit the increase to 30 percent. From the Patriots’ perspective, this means that they can again back-load contracts to lift some pressure of the books for the 2020 season — this is important considering that the team has only around $25.43 million to work with, according to salary cap expert Miguel Benzan.
Re-signing Tom Brady has therefore just gotten a bit easier. If they want, the Patriots can show the future Hall of Famer financial respect by paying him closer to market value again but simultaneously fit a new deal under the cap in 2020 by increasing salaries beyond 30 percent in 2021 and any additional years. In short, structuring a long-term contract without hurting the books this year is now easier to do than it would have been without a new labor deal in place — something that is also true for other non-Brady deals.
Take cornerback Stephon Gilmore and linebacker Dont’a Hightower, for example, who are on the Patriots’ pay roll for $18.7 million and $12.4 million respectively. Without the “30 percent rule” in place, the chances of signing them to contract extensions to lower both numbers are now a lot higher and could create up to $15 million in additional salary cap space for the Patriots to work with over the upcoming days and weeks.
Furthermore, New England can now also go back to one of its favorite ways of creating short-term salary cap space: converting salaries into signing bonuses. Such conversions would not have worked under the previous rules for the “Final League Year” because even though signing bonuses were not covered by the stipulation, the salary jump from one season to the next would have violated the “30 percent rule” .
All in all, the Patriots therefore have to feel good about the players’ decision to ratify the new CBA. They are much more flexible now in their options and have more tools at their disposal when it comes to both creating short-term salary cap space and re-signing Tom Brady and other free agents.